The ‘Power of One’

Maria Elena Martinez. (Photo by Pete Escobar)

This is a first in a series of grant profiles the Grants Department calls: The Power of One: One Person. One Idea. One Grant.

These grant profiles aim to spread awareness among Rio students, faculty, staff, and the local community of how powerful grant funded programs are for the advancement of Rio’s students and the regional reputation of the institution as a whole. Rio Hondo College puts the success of its students first- front and center, but there’s no doubt that managing a funded program provides a level of professional success for the faculty or staff involved, while also supporting the local community. Today’s profile is one of the many grant profiles that will be featured throughout the Power of One campaign. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to highlight the difference one person and one grant can make toward student success, on campus and within their communities. Managing a grant can be challenging, but the impact on the students and the school is well worth it.
To start of the Power of One series, El Paisano staff interviewed Maria Elena Martinez, who is our Basic Skills Grant Manager here at Rio Hondo, and with the help of grant funding from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, is currently working on revamping our Basic Skills program on campus. This program is called the Community College Basic Skills and Student Outcomes Transformation Program, and is meant to assist students’ transition into college level academics much easier. According to assessment tests, a large majority of students entering into college aren’t ready, and without support their transition to higher-level classes becomes a challenge.
New college students take assessment tests in order to determine their placement in Math and English classes. These assessment tests are vital to a student’s future success at college and accurate class placement ensures the student becomes college-ready. Assessment tests also help students plan the future of their college career by informing them of how many classes he or she needs for an AA or to continue on to their BA.
“Close to 80 percent of Rio Hondo entering freshman are not college-ready in Math or English or both,” Martinez explained. “Assessment tests are a tool to help students identify where and how to improve, making them college-ready.”
Unfortunately, according to studies, the tests students have been taking to determine their placement have actually been under-assessing them. In the studies, some colleges have ignored students below-college level assessment scores and placed them in college level courses to see how well they perform. The results have proven surprising.
“The success rate in the college level course did not drop. It stayed the same,” Martinez emphasized. “The fact that the success rates of students placed in upper level courses stayed the same when their assessments scores showed that they’d have to take lower level courses lets us see just how inaccurate some college forms of assessment might be.”
The Chancellor’s office Grant funding will help in the development of Basic Skills programs that will create more accurate forms of assessment, one strategy will use the student’s high school GPA to determine their course placement.
That is only the first obstacle Martinez’s Basic Skills program aims to address. The second goal, after properly identifying underprepared freshmen, is to get them college-ready and provide a comprehensive path for them to follow. However, helping them stay on the path to college readiness is not as easy as it sounds.
“It’s very long” Martinez exclaimed. “You graduated from high school so you think you’re ready for college, but when you go to college they tell you [that] you need to take three math classes before you can take a college level class… it can be very demoralizing.”
Thankfully, the grant funding she’s receiving will support the Basic Skills programs she is helping to develop, and these grants will help boost the success rate of the program to better help the students.
According to Martinez, plans were already in development for creating Rio’s strategies for Basic Skills programming, but thanks to grant funding “we have extra money, we can do them faster, or on a larger scale.”
In fact, her approved grant will significantly help address a third problem that they otherwise may have been unable to address. That third problem highlights the K-12 education system and its relationship with the college systems. How will it do this? By bringing staff from the K-12 and college systems together to better influence their curriculum in order to meet the needs of colleges.
“We’re actually going to help educators come together, review each other’s curriculum, listen to each other about what they do and don’t do in their classrooms, what they see students are deficient in, and then analyze data to see how K-12 educators can help pre-college students master Math and English so that it’s not such a large cliff…That’s what these grants are supposed to do.”
Some of the programs you’ll see on campus that are part of the Basic Skills Initiative funding is the Summer Bridge program which was expanded from one-week to two-weeks for incoming first-year students. This program now serves approximately 330 students and includes faculty coordinators and peer mentoring.

Equally important is the recently re-designed Springboard program that provides an intensive two-week Math booster targeted at continuing students who have delayed enrolling in basic skills math. This program equips students with the tools they need to be successful at math; building confidence and the opportunity for math reassessment, sometimes resulting in higher math course level placement. This is a smaller program, however 67 percent of participating students successfully place two math levels higher.

Lastly, the third Basic Skills program is the Gateway Tutoring program, which peer tutors supplement instruction by both assisting with in-class activities and also conducting weekly independent group tutoring sessions based on course content. There are approximately 730 Rio students served by this program.
Working on these programs in tangent with the support of state funding is rewarding for Martinez on both a personal and professional level, mainly because she was a first-generation college student herself, so she knows the struggles that Rio students face.
“I already know the challenges many students face, so it means a lot to me to be able to help students that are going through what I went through,” Martinez stated.
Martinez’s Basic Skills programs are a shining example of how programs developed with grant funding help students succeed in school and life, and how the school is impacted. This funding is helping Rio improve its current programs by boosting and expanding the progress of Martinez’s current Basic Skills program, and by aiding in the creation of entirely new ones; the Power of One in action.

Martinez’s passion for Rio’s students and her work managing the Basic Skills grant is innovating the future of student success at our school, and showing what one person can do to help benefit the future of many.

When asked what advice she would give to faculty or staff that might be hesitant about pursuing a grant, Martinez stated, “Grant funding brings opportunities to campus and helps create more resources to help our students. You don’t need to go at it alone, the Grants office is there to support you in trying to bring in these resources, and the students really need it.” Martinez continues, “all a person needs is an idea and some motivation to help bring that idea to life.”
The Power of One: One person. One idea. One grant.
For more information about Rio Hondo’s Basic Skills program, Martinez can be reached at If you would like to learn about how to get a project funded, you can contact the Grants Department and talk to Michaela Brehm, ext. 3749, or Melissa Alvarez, ext. 7252,


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